Do you want to learn a new language? Or maybe play a musical instrument like guitar or piano? Or do you want to learn how to cook? Maybe you want to learn another skill, like drawing. Or some professional skill like selling or public speaking.
We live in an age that we have instant access to almost all human knowledge, at our fingertips. There are so many skills we can learn that can learn which can improve our lives in many areas.
But it can be intimidating and uncomfortable to take up the challenge of learning a new skill. Where do you start? How do you make the most progress in the least possible time? Here are several tips to help you master any skill in 90 days or less:
Focus on only one single skill
The power of focus is a great force multiplier. We all have limited time to live, there is no sense in wasting it by dissipating our focus to multiple things. Sunlight that can warm your skin, can burn wood or melt metal if you focus the light on a single point using a lens. The same amount of energy that is in a candlelight, can cut steel if it is focused like a laser beam.
This way you can make great progress in as little as 100 days. You can be fluent in a new language, proficient in playing guitar, impress your friends by your cooking skills at a dinner you host etc… You get the point.
Find mentors, books, courses to guide you in your progress
Once you have chosen a skill to learn in the next 90 days, next thing you do is to find 3-5 pieces sources of information, to guide you along learning your chosen skill set.
This can be anything. It can be a mentor, coach, advisor to guide you personally. It can be books, courses, seminars. It can be groups of people that have the same interest and coming together regularly. It can be online and offline.
However, try not to use this as an excuse to procrastinate. We have all been there. Get 20 books about a topic, think “when I’m done with reading these 20 books, I’ll have mastered this skill”. But then, it becomes overwhelming, and we put it off forever, and never get around to it.
Instead, use these resources to start fast, and at least get good enough to self-practice and self-correct. And that simply means you can try the skill, realize when you do something wrong, and try something else.
Deconstruct the skill you want to learn
Deconstructing the skill simply means, taking a complex skill, and taking it apart to small pieces, and focusing on a small number, but most frequently used pieces of information first.
There are these things called Zipf’s law and Pareto distribution, and they apply to all human knowledge and skill sets. I won’t bore with the mathematical details, but in every skill, there is a small subset that has the highest frequency, that is the most useful. For example, the top 100 words in the English language, make up more than %50 of all words used.
Tim Ferris is known for simplifying all the grammar rules of a new language to 12 simple sentences , like “The apple is red.” “It is John’s Apple.” “I give John the Apple” and so on.
And this doesn’t only apply to languages. In 2011, Axis of Awesome made a song named 4 chords, to show how many popular songs are based on only four chords. And Josh Kaufman noticed the same thing when he tried to learn how to play Ukulele and test his theory of learning a skill in 20 hours.
Immerse yourself in the skill
Now that you have chosen your skill, have determined 3-5 sources of information to guide you, and have deconstructed your chosen skill, it is time to jump in with both feet.
Put in the time, at least 2 hours or more each day. Commit to at least work on learning your new skill, for at least 20 hours as soon as possible. Most people can do it in a week. Stop wasting time on useless activities, like watching tv or social media. Use the time you normally waste, by listening to audiobooks, like when you are driving to work or doing chores around the house. Put a book in the bathroom, read a few pages every time you use the toilet.
Use every opportunity in your daily life to learn something about your chosen skill.
Use flash cards and spaced repetition
Much of learning is about getting new information into our long-term memory so that whenever we need it, we can recall it easily.
However, the brain is flooded with many pieces of new information every second, and therefore we forget things we get exposed to pretty quickly. And when you need to learn a lot of new information, fast, this is a problem.
The way to overcome this problem is by using spaced repetition. You see, the way that our brains distinguish between what information to commit to long-term memory, and what to ignore and forget quickly is, based on spaced repetition.
Let’s say you are exposed to one new word from a new language the first time. Then it is recorded in your short-term memory, and you can recall it for a minute or two. And in a minute, if you need actively recall it, then you can remember it a bit longer, maybe for 10 minutes. And then in 10 minutes if you recall it again, then you can remember the word for an hour. And then in an hour if you recall it again, you can remember the word for a day. And then for 3-4 days, a week, a month, 6 months and so on.
In the old days without computers and the Internet, making use of spaced repetition was a difficult task. First, you needed to make flashcards. Then review those cards regularly, schedule them etc.
Nowadays there are free programs that make using space repetition very easy, like anki . It makes all the hard work of scheduling the flashcards, reviewing them when you need them, etc. And it also supports audios, pictures, and videos, not just text. And you can find shared decks online, about many topics from learning languages, to playing an instrument, to learning scientific topics like mathematics or anatomy.
If you apply all of these simple but powerful steps, you will soon make amazing progress and impress friends and family with your new skills.